The IRGC’s FTO Delisting Is Iran’s and America’s Shared Imbroglio


With its oil production already reaching pre-Trump era levels, Tehran is linking full compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to the delisting of the  Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) by the US State Department. As part of his  “maximum pressure” policy against Iran, the Trump  administration for the first time named another country’s military entity – the IRGC – as a terrorist group on April 8, 2019.  Iran responded by inconsequentially designating all  US military forces as a “terrorist organization.” 

Since both the United States and Iran are walking back to the pre-Trump period, it would seem that the IRGC branding as a FTO must go as well. The situation on this matter  is much more complicated than it appears. The IRGC,  which does not report to the president but only to the supreme leader, is not known to be a transparent player. Lifting the IRGC’s FTO branding based on Iran’s “public guarantee to de-escalate” will not  satisfy the US administration, Congress  nor Iran’s Arab neighbors.  The trust deficit over the IRGC’s  actions extends to major European powers too.

A rescission of the FTO designation means the lifting of immigration restrictions  on the IRGC’s current and former members and anyone ever affiliated with it in any other way from entering the United States.  In addition, anyone found knowingly providing material support or resources to the IRGC  will not be liable  to face criminal proceedings unless he or she falls under the jurisdiction of a host of other sanctions that Iran and its elite military branch  are subject to. The step to designate the IRGC as a FTO  was designed to deter states and companies from engaging in business with it, which  has deep inroads in  Iran’s economy.  The IRGC was first designated by the Treasury Department in October 2007 under the counterproliferation authorities of Executive Order (E.O) 13382. That action also designated the IRGC’s Quds Force branch — though not the IRGC overall — as a terrorist group under E.O. 13224.

In light of the aforementioned,  if the IRGC will  not be free of sanctions completely,  then what  will Iran achieve from  its FTO rescission?

The IRGC has always been  a redline for  the Iranian government because of its close proximity to  the supreme leader. Going ahead with  reviving the JCPOA without revoking   the IRGC’s label as a FTO will be viewed as a major betrayal by the “hardliners,” with the Iranian government expected to face major defiance and opposition if this was to happen.

The Biden administration is beset with a rather similar quandary. The US president and his Democratic Party must be ready to pay some political cost as the media and the Republican Party will portray the IRGC’s FTO delisting as an enormous concession to Iran, one that will eventually lead to its free access to the global market and banking system. A group of 80 Congress members have already  written to the US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken informing him that they “are united in strong opposition to any move to legitimize the IRGC’s reckless, destabilizing, and antisemitic actions through the Middle East.” Any new nuclear deal with Iran will have to be placed before the Senate, in which there is some parity between  the Democrats and Republicans in terms of numbers.  For the White House, any new nuclear deal  with Iran  will not be easy to sell within the Democratic Party let alone getting Republicans on board.

 Iran desires to damage the credibility of  Washington’s power projection through sanctions by revoking the IRGC’S FTO classification, if successful,  the United States  will be seen as softening its  position on a terrorist entity.  Iran’s stringent position in the nuclear talks has been to delink all issues concerning human rights, militancy, terrorism, or its missile program  from the talks.  Tehran’s quagmire stemming from its inability to proceed without the  supreme  leader’s and the IRGC’s nod may stall the  revival of the nuclear deal for the foreseeable future. All the while, Iran will continue to enrich uranium in larger quantities and beyond 60 percent, hence shortening its nuclear breakout time even more.

If the Biden administration finds a way to win the support of lawmakers to revive the nuclear deal  including the IRGC’S FTO delisting, will Iran agree to a mechanism to assess the   IRGC’s non-involvement in proxy wars across the Middle East and elsewhere? Bridging the trust gap with Iran is a herculean task, especially when the likes of Hezbollah’s and al-Hashd al-Shaabi’s existence solely depends upon the IRGC’s financing and military assistance. While the sanctions hold, Iran has expanded its oil production to pre-Trump levels as reports of sanction-busting activities deepen suspicions about its activities in the future when some key restrictions will be removed.

Editorial Team